Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is a soulful cinematic prayer. It’s an open letter which embraces and reverences childhood, class struggles and politics. It’s also a sweetly composed film – one which lulls you into its power, before hitting you with a poignant turmoil. This is cinema at its most hypnotic and its most honest.
Yalitza Aparicio is Cleo, a maid working for an affluent family in Mexico City in the early 1970s. Cleo appears content with the family: the children adore her even if the parents (Marina de Tavira and Fernando Grediaga) don’t hold her in the same high regard. Cleo falls pregnant just as the family unit begins to crumble and at the same time there’s a political swelling amongst the city’s youth. Tensions rise, passions fall, as our central character begins to struggle to survive as her circumstances change.
Written, directed, produced, co-written and shot by Alfonso Cuarón, Roma is a film which will haunt you, which will linger for days long after your first viewing. This is a passion project for Cuarón, a film which draws on his youth, showing an open-eyed, almost childish perspective at life. Yalitza Aparicio’s Cleo takes us on a journey, showing us a world with two very disparate sides. The less glamorous one inhabited by hardworking maids, drivers and farmhands – another of doctors and the louche bourgeoisie. Roma has three thoughtful crescendos: a New Year’s Eve party that sees a forest fire interrupt proceedings; a gut punching birthing scene set amongst a riot and a dramatic drowning. All are expertly handled and Cuarón hits powerful emotional beats which feel authentic.
Cuarón’s black and white photography is mesmerising – from the opening shots to the closing frames. The stark emotions of childhood on display and well-tuned familial cracks draw on some of the finest moments of cinematic history. Roma has touches of François Truffaut’s 1959 childhood memoir The 400 Blows and Yasujirō Ozu’s 1953 family drama Tokyo Story. However, it is not derivative of these – in fact Roma stands as an equal to these films – and that is no easy feat.